I’m angry. You should know that outright.
I read a post of Facebook today from a friend who is going through some difficult things. She has been going through difficulties of increasing intensity since long before we met 10 years ago, and I have seen firsthand how these problems have impacted her life significantly in the decade I’ve known her. I have seen her face health obstacles that most people cannot fathom happening to them once, let alone again and again, surgery after surgery. She has been on dialysis the whole time I’ve known her, going to the dialysis center three days a week, sitting with the machine four hours at a time, just so she can live. In the time I’ve known her, I have seen her life become smaller and smaller as her compromised health robs her of more and more.
Recently, she shared with me that she is facing another surgery, the outcome of which could be life or death. She told me she’s tired. So tired. Her life has been one of tremendous struggle, from the time she was a little girl. Of all the people I know, she is one of the bravest, and it is rare that a time has come when she has faced an obstacle when she didn’t rise to the occasion. She may not always overcome the obstacle, but she is going to fight like hell to stand her ground like no one else I know. I have seen her do this with her health, with her relationships, with businesses treating her unjustly, with government bureaucracies trying to mire her down in red tape rather than give her the help she needs… this woman…this tiny, tired, woman who has been kicked around by life will stand up and kick ass when she needs to, she is tough as nails, and there isn’t a whole lot that can keep her down for long.
So when she tells me she’s tired, it means something.
When she says she is tired and asks people to pray for a miracle or a smooth transition to eternity, because she can’t keep going on as she has been, it means something.
Which is why it broke my heart to read all the well-meaning but rather thoughtless comments which included, “There’s a reason for everything. Hang in there. Keep praying.”
There’s a reason for everything? Really? And if we are to go with that logic, then it means by extension that untold suffering in the world, not the least of which being what my friend faces every day of her life, is orchestrated with intention. Taking it further, we are to believe that these events are orchestrated by a power or a being that has the foreknowledge of their outcome and their impact on all who experience, read about, hear about, watch a YouTube video about, or tweet about these events, because there is a reason for everything and we can only assume that in all that screwed up mess there is something redemptive. If we don’t see the reason, we say that it is because we don’t understand God’s ways, but we must surely trust that God has a reason for every fucked up thing that happens in the world.
The children starving to death despite the world’s abundance of food, the millions who have been murdered, raped, and tortured in the Democratic Republic of Congo whose plight goes virtually unnoticed by the world’s most powerful governments because those governments have no fiduciary interest in the survival of such as they, useless wars against faceless enemies that cost thousands of lives in the name of patriotism, a war on drugs that ultimately empowers all the wrong people and renders systems of control utterly useless, children killing other children in their schools and neighborhoods, families sick and dying from wholly preventable diseases because they do not have access to clean drinking water… and my friend, facing questions of life and death, eternity, who is only a few years older than me.
There is a divine reason for any of this? Because, seriously, if that’s what we believe, then what kind of megalomaniacal God do we believe in? This omnipotent, omniscient God can find no better way to communicate with humankind than through these devastating tragedies that leave more questions than answers in their wake? This God…he asks for unwavering obedience, but just in case you didn’t get that message, he’s got all sorts of tricks up the sleeves of his flowing white robes that he will use to get your attention, and his favorite methods involve inflicting pain. This is what we believe, when you get right down to it, when we say, “There’s a reason for everything.”
We don’t often use that phrase when good things are happening, do we? It is only when things are going terribly, terribly wrong that we throw that phrase around, because it somehow makes us feel safer. We don’t have to live with the discomfort of the randomness and gut-wrenching unfairness of life if we can believe, even for a moment, that there is a reason for great suffering.
It is my belief that “there is a reason for everything” is one of those phrases we need to just decide to stop using, particularly in situations when the suffering is big, the answers are few, the relief is far off if it is there at all, and there is just no way to wrap up the situation in pretty packaging and make it more appealing. Sometimes, life just sucks. Sometimes, the world is cruel. Sometimes, people have terrible things happen to them because life is just like that, and there is no greater reason for it. Sometimes, we have to be willing to lay the platitudes aside and call things what they are, acknowledge that it’s a lousy hand that’s been dealt, and there is little more to do than scream alongside the person who has to figure out what they are to do with the lousy cards.
Certainly, we can inject purpose into things. We can look at famine and use it as a means to become more aware of our own blessings, and then take it a step further and become part of a movement to get aid to the countries where people are dying for lack of food and water. We can look at the suffering of a friend and become more aware of our need to slow down and live with intention, act with compassion, and step outside of ourselves to sit with our friend in the ashes and mourn. We can see the terrible tragedy of genocide, and become more aware of our need to collectively raise a voice against it and demand that those in power do something…my God, SOMETHING…to help the victims. But to say that these outcomes were the driving force behind the master plan for these tragedies to begin with cheapens God, cheapens God’s love, cheapens God’s grace, and cheapens God’s heart for humanity.
The older I get and the further I move away from the faith I had as a child, the more the concept of “a reason for everything” seems not only foreign to me, but dangerous. I recall many times when such thinking was used by various sects of the Christian community to explain away such horrors as the Columbine shooting, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and even more recently, the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook. In these instances, the reason was that God was angry with the political choices America was making, angry with us for aborting our babies and affirming homosexuals, and these events…these horrific, tragic, terrible, course-changing events…God’s way of waking up the nation to his displeasure with us, and served only as warnings of greater tragedies to come if we didn’t stop flying our rainbow flags and supporting Planned Parenthood.
It is very easy to get caught up in the need to rationalize every tragedy that befalls humankind, whether those tragedies happen on a macro or micro scale. It’s easy because it’s comfortable. It’s difficult to accept that life really is that uncertain, that each of us is only one life-altering event away from everything we think we know being stripped away from us, it’s easy to think that we can insulate ourselves from the utter devastation of the soul when these things happen by just telling ourselves, “There’s a reason for everything.”
There is a reason for everything, I suppose. Sometimes that reason is that life is unfair. Sometimes that reason is that the world is cruel. Sometimes that reason is that humanity seems to be devolving and people do not know how to treat each other anymore. Sometimes, as in my case so very often, it is that we made a stupid choice and must now live with the life changing consequences of that choice no matter how much it hurts.
Whatever the reason is, the outcome sucks. Life can really stink sometimes. I think there would be far more comfort in being able to be honest about that with ourselves and each other, because it eliminates the implication that the person who cannot see the reason for their suffering is somehow spiritually deficient, whereas those spouting platitudes are not. We can find healing in the common ground of suffering, because seeing each other in our brokenness and anger and despair allows us to identify with each other on a human level, as much or more as we do when we are sharing in our joys.
So, my friend…and you know who you are…I hear you. I see you. I feel you. I know this stuff you’re dealing with sucks and you’re tired. And I’m with you, in your joy or your pain. I love you to the moon and back.